TIM AND MIKE: Free agency preview

Posted Mar 12, 2018

Tim Twentyman and Mike O'Hara preview free agency and the upcoming new league year.

What better time for Tim Twentyman and Mike O’Hara to look at the Detroit Lions’ free-agent needs with the NFL’s “legal tampering” period starting in earnest on Monday?

Teams have two days to talk to court potential free agents and begin preliminary contract talks in advance of the official signing period starting on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

It’s already been a volatile offseason, with signings and trades arranged that can become official on Wednesday.

In the Lions’ case, it has been relatively quiet – so far – but all that can change with one phone call or a few strokes of the negotiating pen. Where do the Lions stand now as general manager Bob Quinn and his personnel staff continue upgrading the roster?

Mike: The drum beat continues in the areas where the Lions need immediate help. It’s defensive line and running back.

As Quinn said at his Combine press conference last month, everyone has been talking about the running back situation since the end of the season.

Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia want to give the offense balance, and that means bringing in fresh legs from the draft or new veteran legs in free agency to improve a running game that ranked last in the NFL in 2018.

But running back isn’t the only area that will be targeted. There are other critical needs on defense, and I have a sleeper to watch.

Tim: Sleeper to watch? Hmm.

Quinn made it very clear after the season that he wanted to add pieces on defense.

The Lions’ needs on defense really encompass all three levels but adding talent and depth along the front seven should take precedent.

Even with Ziggy Ansah playing on the one-year franchise tag, the Lions could use depth along the edge, and maybe a long-term solution if Ansah plays elsewhere starting in 2019.

Head coach Matt Patricia continues to say he wants to be multiple on defense. That requires versatile defensive linemen, especially along the interior, and at the linebacker position.

Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin got some great experience as rookies, but the four most senior linebackers on the roster – Tahir Whitehead, Brandon Copeland, Paul Worrilow and Nick Bellore – are all unrestricted free agents. Detroit needs both talent and depth at the linebacker spot.

Teez Tabor and Jamal Agnew are expected to have bigger roles in year two alongside Darius Slay, but again, a bit of that is projection, and veteran depth is always necessary at corner.

The Lions certainly have needs on defense to address via free agency and the draft.

So, about that sneaky need?

Mike: I’ll delay my breathlessly awaited look at what seems to be an unusual state of veteran running backs to unveil my choice for a player to watch.

Full disclosure -- I saw Avery Williamson’s name mentioned over the weekend and got intrigued.

Williamson was a four-year starter at inside linebacker for the Titans since entering the league as a fifth-round draft pick in 2014. He has been a solid, productive, durable player. He’s missed only one game, with 59 starts in the 63 games he’s played.

Williamson had a solid workout at the 2014 Combine.

Jarrad Davis is entrenched as the Lions’ starting middle linebacker, but there’s always a need for depth.

I have no idea if Williamson is a player the Lions could, should or will pursue at any level. He’s on my personal watch list.

Tim: On the offensive side of the ball, we’ve talked a lot about the running back spot, which is obviously a need that will be addressed.

Detroit might have a need for a starter at center or guard, depending on where they slot in Graham Glasgow, and how much they think third-year player Joe Dahl is ready for a bigger role.

Tight end could be a position of need, depending on what happens with Eric Ebron. Right now, he’s on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. Michael Roberts, a fourth-round draft pick last year, is also in the fold. The Lions could add a young veteran in free agency – like a Trey Burton type – for depth and looking ahead to 2019 and beyond.

The depth of the receiver corps could be attended to in the second and third stages of free agency.

Am I missing anything?

Mike: Just one thing.

Expect action from Quinn.

Based on his record in his first two season as GM, expect him to act quickly.

In 2016 he signed wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. right after Calvin Johnson announced his retirement.

Last year, two offensive linemen were signed immediately to be starters on the right side – guard T.J. Lang and tackle Rick Wagner.

Quinn has shown that he plans ahead to set the stage for quick action. This year, that could mean early signings and quick decisions on players who will be allowed to hit the market.

The Lions have needs, plus salary-cap space to fill them.

It’s an ideal formula for action.

Tim: I’ll remind folks that Quinn’s action will likely extend into all the different stages of free agency.

The first wave includes the big names, is the priciest for teams and gets the most headlines, but Quinn’s found both starters and roster depth over the last couple years in all three stages of free agency.

Safety Rafael Bush, tight end Darren Fells and cornerback DJ Hayden are a couple recent examples of players signed a couple days into free agency that made an impact.

It’s a fun part of the offseason. The next month and a half should be fun to cover.